Sunny Pathway

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Too Much Excitement?

Believe it or not, this car spent the weekend in our garage. A neighbor didn’t think it was really ours. Hmmm. Wonder why. Our son-in-law Jerry is driving it onto a trailer in this picture.

But first I have to tell you about the rest of my week.

On Wednesday Ken drove me to Grand Forks to see my rheumatologist because I’m beginning Remicade infusions for Rheumatoid Arthritis—again. I prefer driving myself—I don’t want to lose my driving skills and I enjoy singing at the top of my voice when I’m alone. This was a traumatic event, however. When I mentioned I wouldn’t mind a driver, Ken volunteered.

(Remicade is one of the new biologic drugs and I’d been doing so well that my doctor asked if I would like to try life without it for a season. I did well for over a year.)

On Thursday I made a major decision concerning my Red, Red Berries blog and spent much of the day organizing and writing. I even posted that night—very late—after attending my writer’s group.

And on Friday morning the post was featured in the Google Alerts under “Spiritual Armor." Now I didn’t quite dance down the hall to find Ken; I just scurried as fast as I could scurry. (Of course it was gone Saturday, but for what it was worth, I enjoyed the moment.)

The big event of the day or week or month came when our oldest son called Friday to hear what the rheumatologist said about meeting them in Ethiopia. Earlier, he and his wife (she is Ethiopian and they live in the United Arab Emirates) had invited us to meet them for their baby girl’s baptism. Ted’s weekend begins on Friday so he called for the verdict and we set the dates for some very long plane rides.

After lunch Ken and I sat by the computer together to order the tickets. Prior to this I’d been saying, “We might go to Ethiopia.” Suddenly it was, “We’re going.” Big difference.

At 9:30 p.m. that evening—in the dark—on a trailer pulled by a semi—down our quiet neighborhood street—a driver delivered the above-mentioned Corvette to our address. This isn't Jerry's first Corvette, but it's the first he's had delivered to us, an arrangement that saved delivery costs. Ken went down immediately.

Now, in a pinch, this husband of mine can repair a car with the best of them—I’ve seen him do it. But Corvettes are outside his experience. By the time I arrived and exclaimed, “Oh, it’s red!” the fellow delivering the vehicle wondered about our connection to it. I felt obliged to explain.

“Oh,” he said. And a neighbor who understood the features of the specific model came to admire and enlighten us. Then the driver told us how to open the doors, how to start the engine—little details like that. Because the seats are low, I decided I didn’t want to risk getting in—I might have trouble climbing out. So the neighbor rode into the garage with Ken.

By Saturday my energy levels were way down, but I had scheduled myself to participate in a 24-hour short-story contest—I wanted to fulfilled my personal commitment by submitting a written piece during the month of September. It turned into a fun exercise, even though I didn’t finish until 11:00 p.m.

On Sunday I broke my parents’s rules by working on the sabbath. Actually, I relaxed by cleaning the bathrooms and doing a few things in the kitchen.

Yesterday, Monday, I shopped (there are things to buy for a major trip and jeans aren’t appropriate for women my age in Ethiopia). I reviewed my stash of fabrics and cut out a skirt. But everything stopped when Jerry picked up his Corvette. Although I’m not a car buff—am more interested in color than model, design, or motors—I admit it's beautiful. Here's Jerry checking connections before for the ride home. That's Ken looking on.

Add all this excitment to the excitement generated by a building project next to our condo and the fact that we’re Twins fans. (We feel obligated to keep up on their run for the division championship—and won’t know the outcome until tonight, two days after the regular season is over.) And, of course, a financial crisis.

This morning, Tuesday, I kept an appointment for vaccinations necessary because we’re going to a relatively undeveloped country. I’m believing we’ll be ready for a great trip. We’ll meet a granddaughter for the first time, reacquaint ourselves with her brother, enjoy their parents, and experience another culture. WOW!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The God-Given Desire for Creativity

God is the most creative person alive. I suppose that’s hardly news, but you may not have thought of it that way.

Here’s another thought: because we’re created in His image, our creativity reflects Him.

Ken and I built a lake home (literally), and that required a great deal of creativity. Of course, our major creations together are our four children. On a less grand scale, I create meals every day.

Looking beyond myself, salesmen create sales, accountants create ways of interpreting sales, mathematicians create formulas the rest of the world doesn’t understand, engineers design stuff, contractors build stuff. When I taught for a vocational college I encouraged some of my students by telling them they created when they repaired things that didn’t work. It’s an important concept.

Was there ever something you wanted to create but it seemed beyond you, out of reach? As a child I dreamed of writing stories or poems but when I tried, I was never pleased with the results. Although I achieved a measure of success writing for our small-school paper when in high school, I put it behind me—until I wanted a “little” extra money, answered an ad, and became a published writer in the field of journalism. When I returned to college, I wrote a few poems for a creative writing class.

Last Saturday, however, I went with a friend to a Book Release Party that was a new milestone. She and I each had a poem published in The Talking Stick, an annual literary journal published by the Jackpine Writers Bloc.

Not only was this my first experience with publication since retirement 11 years ago (other than my blogs), it was the first time I was ever published in a literary journal. A group of people had determined my work had artistic merit.

Now, I hope I’ve convinced you all writing requires creativity, but this was creativity of another kind and acceptance as a writer in a new genre was sweet.

When I began writing a few years ago, it was something of a health issue. I had no ambitions to write professionally again, but my rheumatologist asked me, as my condition improved, if I was doing the things I used to do. Well, I’d started sewing a bit, primarily to save money, and I was going to a pool for exercise. Helpful as these activities are, however, neither fulfilled me.

So I began writing. Almost immediately into the process, I realized I needed readers. Writing is, after all, a form of communication. That led me to a writer’s group—where at least the five or six members of the group would look at my work once a month. That led to writing pieces in different genres for meetings—personal essays, descriptive passages, short stories. That led to thinking about creating a blog or two. And along the way I began writing poetry.

The poem submitted to Jackpine wasn’t the first or the last submission I’ve entered in contests. I have eight more out there right now that I’m waiting to hear about, three that I’m sure are stronger submissions.

Why, at this time in life, would I pursue such a thing? I can’t quite explain it, but I feel writing has helped restore my mind and it's given me back to myself. I used to say I wasn’t a great journalist, but I was a competent journalist. Now I have to say I’m not a great artist, but even when I push myself and get tired, I revel in the effort. I'm creating in a manner than excites me: I'm responding to the God-given desire for creativity.

So here it is. Didn’t win any prizes, but it made the cut.

Clearing the Lake Lot

Gold and orange leaves imprinted against
a seamless gray sky. His chainsaw grinds
through fallen logs that crack and collapse
with soft thuds and he cries in anger
when a splinter pierces his glove.

I drag the scratchy branches littered around him
and throw them on our fire. Twigs and leaves
disappear in flame and sparks fly. I singe my hair
when I pass through smoky air to reach slivery chunks
of wood for special campfires. Loading them into
the squeaky wheelbarrow, I haul them to the edge
of our property and stack the pieces in a long,
low pile to mark our boundary.

Fatigued by mid-afternoon—done for the day—
we hunker together in silence on a rock to share
a thermos of hot coffee and pieces of dried fruit.
By turning into the wind we distance ourselves
from the fire. Whitecaps pound against the shore,
and we go for a walk on the hard, wet sand.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A New Development

I have a friend who arranged a huge bouquet of domestic field sunflowers for her coffee table. Totally unexpected and stunning. Several weeks later I saw an inspiring arrangement of artificial sunflowers. So, when equipment arrived to install infrastructure for a new development in the vacant lot next to our condo, I collected some of the wild sunflowers from the lot for a bouquet.

We’ve lived with this empty space in the middle of town, just to the east of our property, for five years—since moving into our twelve-unit building. Although the unit Ken and I purchased faces the west, we’ve experienced the lot’s proximity just the same.

The prospect of new neighbors has been more than exciting. Instead of the 60 units there will be 75 units—in a different configuration than we antaicipated. We’ve had meetings with city officials, usually younger than our children, to voice concerns. Some of them have been very nice people.

Here’s how how the lot in question looks when newly mowed. Trim and neat—not so bad. Do you see the Jackribbit?

When not newly mowed, individual grasses and wildflowers show their stuff. That’s not so bad, either. When learning how to use the camera, I couldn’t resist taking pictures. There are tiny scattered white flowers. Other plants dominate areas. Is this broom tail grass?

The empty space has provided a home for cottontails, jackrabbits, and an interesting prairie bird. The prairie birds—everyone in our building loves them—usually hide when the grass is tall and shaggy. I can’t imagine them surviving in a more civilized surround. Jackrabbits won’t either. Even now, a hefty percentage are hit by passing cars. Cottontails will continue to be a nuisance.

Most of us don’t feel too badly about what we’re losing; it’s what we’re gaining that concerns us. Our neighborhood will be different than we originally anticipated and different than we’ve experienced to date.

I’m inclined to think the builders and city might be making a mistake—that a good number of baby boomers will want our type of setup in a few years. North Dakotans love their wide open spaces, and our present arrangement doesn’t seem crowded. But demographics are changing and a larger number of people will want smaller spaces (just as they now want smaller cars).

Meanwhile, our home suits us. I plan to enjoy it as long as I live here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I read a novel recently titled The Shack by William P. Young. It addresses relationships, and because I was thinking about aging while reading it, I realized anew that living in relationships is a difficult aspect of growing older.

Mack, the protagonist, goes to a shack, a scene where his family experienced unspeakable violence, to meet with God—represented by a large Black woman named Papa. A small Asian woman named Sarayu represents the Holy Spirit—she floats about while emanating colors. And Jesus—finally, someone reasonable—by a 30-something man from the Middle East.

I had less trouble with the characters after Papa explains he/she is manifesting in a form Mack can accept—Mack had been abused by his father. But I understand my friend who quit reading the book because everything seemed, and I quote her, “so silly.” When Papa drops a large bowl of a substance resembling a batter, Jesus wipes her feet and skirt while all members of the godhead laugh easily. I understand Jesus cleaning up—after all, He came as a servant. I understand good-natured laughter. But why would God drop a bowl of batter?

And yet. And yet—the interaction between them somehow illustrates the theology of the Trinity in ways that brought life to me. Although One, they are Three who interact and live in relationship with each other. They desire relationship with each other, with Mack, and with all people.

Conversations between the members of the Godhead and Mack deal with the issues of Mack's life—specifically, why a loving God allows evil. I think the writer does more than a credible job on the subject, but I kept reading because I was interested in the relationships. Although, unlike Mack, I was raised in a loving home, when I read his story I felt his rejection. Stories will do that, they broaden our experience.

Every background has its perils. I was taught to treat other people nicely. Excellent training, I guess. I can’t even suggest a better way to do it. I do know, however, that I regularly seethed inside because I had no freedom of choice when interacting with others. So Mack seethed for one reason and I for another. Like Mack, at times I suppressed my personality. What bothers me most is that I didn’t give my children choice, either.

Perhaps this is why I've struggled with the maxims of the New Testament, but a quick reread of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is interesting. From a different perspective, it’s possible He wasn’t providing the people with a new, harsher list of rules. He was telling them to forget the rules and enter into relationship. Read it to see what you think. (Matthew 5, 6, & 7)

Like so many older couples, Ken and I especially struggled with our relationship after retirement. The truth is, during the busy years we had allowed our relationship to slide. Not that we disliked each other or didn’t function together. But somewhere along the line we had stopped sharing, had grown so far apart that we no longer took pleasure in each other’s company. Then we retired and had to become acquainted again.

To borrow a line from Dickens, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Although relationships are of infinite value and they make life worth living, they're also demanding and at times irritating.

Ken and I intuitively approach life differently, but today he’s my closest friend other than Jesus. I’ve reflected a bit on how we navigated from there to here and can’t come up with an explanation—outside of that other friend I mentioned—Jesus. Connecting with Him somehow includes connecting with my husband—because God loves relationships. Paul said, You were his enemies, . . .Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. (Col. 1:22 NLT)

These days Ken and I have to work our way through things, deal with issues, see our personal failings, forgive for wounds inflicted, release the other to whatever, and love. It would be impossible outside of God’s grace. However, with him you [we] were raised to new life because you [we] trusted in the mighty power of god, who raised Christ from the dead. (Col. 2:12 NLT)

Don’t think I don’t resist, because submission includes releasing our will to each other. Submission, we’ve discovered, is mutual in relationship. Paul begins his teaching on husband-wife relationships with, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:21 NLT)

So how about God? Does He submit in relationships? You have to remember that I’m using Young’s book as a launching point, and only as a launching point. These ideas aren’t stated by him, but I believe God does submit. He submits to our will when He releases us to make our own mistakes while loving us anyway. He doesn’t ask us to do something He doesn’t do Himself.

Life is shaped by relationships—with our children, our birth family, our friends, our neighbors, etc. I’ve failed to a greater or lesser degree in all of them because I tried to live by rules rather than in relationship. Marriage, the most intimate human relationship, is a microcosm of the broader picture. I believe Ken’s and my return to relationship can only be viewed as an intricate, delicate journey wrought by an infinite God.

When God releases us, He also provides experiences to change us and lead us into repentance, forgiveness, submission, love. That's the miracle.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Classroom on the Deck

We’ve had intense classroom learning in the afternoons on the railing of our condo deck. Adult swallows are teaching their young the art of swooping through the air to catch bugs. The first step is helping the young find motivation. Ken took this picture of five young lined up, watching Mom and Dad while waiting for their dinner.

Notice how plump they are. They’ve been well fed while Mom and Dad have been taking care of them. The adults are sleek. They’ve been working hard.

Ken patiently waited to catch a picture of Mom feeding a live bug to one of her babies. He wasn’t fast enough on several occasions because the exchange took only a moment and required a quick response. Finally, he captured this, not quite full contact and a bit blurry, but I still think it’s an exciting picture.

We’ve also had other classrooms on our minds. Two of our grandchildren are high school seniors this year, one a freshman, one a second grader, and one a first grader. I’m happy they’re all happy to begin another school year.

Of the remaining two grandchildren, one is almost two and the other one month. They, of course, are learning faster than anyone in the family right now. Ken brought that up when we talked about a new school year.

Education is a major interest for us. Ken was a teacher by profession before retiring and I taught as a temporary fill-in for several years.

I’m convinced all creatures want to learn—especially human creatures. A swallow that doesn’t learn to feed itself will live a short, unhappy life. And if children don’t learn, they won’t be happy, either.

In the classroom I primarily taught English 101. One of my colleagues would say at the beginning of the year, “English is the subject they love to hate.” And it was true. I always felt I had to begin by convincing them they would benefit by learning my subject material.

For some that meant learning to identify and then compose a sentence. Many learned they could when they tried, and the skill brought confidence and freedom. For others it was organizing ideas. And for some it meant broadening their perspective through literature.

The gaps in learning were interesting. Some students had astounding logic, could organize ideas incredibly well, but had trouble with sentences. Others wrote perfect sentences but had trouble with literature. Some loved stories, intuitively picked up literary themes, but couldn’t explain why. There were all sorts of configurations of skills and appreciations.

I firmly believe all children love to learn. Learning is interesting—like watching swallows on the deck railing. As a teacher I had good days and lesser days, good class groups and lesser class groups. Some students were convinced they couldn’t learn and wouldn’t try. But no one—not even the toughest dudes who wanted to downplay the subject—ever regretted it when they did learn something new or when they learned to do something new. Isn’t that interesting?

So, kids go to school, adults learn new jobs, neighbors learn to make room for neighbors, families learn to accommodate changes, and young swallows learn to catch bugs for dinner. It’s all part of God’s master plan.

I’m grateful for the swallows. They provide an opportunity for us to observe nature now that we live in the city. I know they’re a rather messy bird, but they have a lovely body shape and they look graceful when flying through the air. They’re fulfilling their purpose. That’s my prayer for our grandchildren.